Special Topics in Environmental Management

House Draft Bill Has Smaller Cuts to EPA’s Budget

Congress has issued its first significant response to President Donald Trump’s proposed 31 percent cut in EPA’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget. Specifically, the House Appropriations Committee released a draft appropriations bill that would fund the Agency at $7.5 billion, a reduction of $528 million below the FY 2017 enacted level but $1.9 billion above the administration’s request.

Capitol building

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The proposed EPA budget is part of a bill that also funds Department of the Interior agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Congress Controls Purse

As soon as the president proposed his budget for the EPA and other agencies, lawmakers made it clear that setting the actual federal spending numbers was in the hands of Congress, not the White House.  Virtually all Democrats and some Republicans were vocal in their opposition to the president’s request, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who said the proposal was “dead on arrival.”  Multiple steps remain before a budget is made final, including a vote on many appropriations bills by the full House, similar action in the Senate, and then reconciliation of the House and Senate measures.  Current funding for the federal government expires September 30, 2017.

CSB Continuation Supported

One of the major environmental proposals in the House bill is restoration of full funding for the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), the foremost federal body for investigating accidents at industrial facilities that manufacture, store, and use the most dangerous commercial chemicals.  The president had sought elimination of the CSB and its $11 million budget.

Another high-profile cut in the president’s budget is the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).  The possible elimination of the GLRI aroused more concern from lawmakers in Great Lakes states than any other proposed cut.  Under the appropriations bill, the GLRI is fully funded at $300 million.

Staff Reduction

The president’s budget had sought to save money by cutting 3,200 full-time-equivalent positions at the EPA mainly by buyouts and voluntary separation agreements, and the House proposal supports these actions.

Also included in the House draft is a provision specifically authorizing the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which defines jurisdictional waters under the Clean Water Act.  On June 27, 2017, the EPA and the Corps issued a proposal to rescind WOTUS and re-codify the regulatory text that existed prior to the promulgation of WOTUS.

Reining in the Bureaucracy

“This legislation responsibly supports the agencies and offices we rely on to preserve our natural resources for future generations and prioritizes our limited funding to programs that protect environmental safety, such as the Chemical Safety Board,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) of the bill. “Further, the Committee’s vigorous oversight has identified opportunities to rein in the federal bureaucracy and to stop many harmful and unnecessary regulations that destroy economic opportunity and hinder job creation.”

The committee’s draft appropriations bill for the EPA, Department of the Interior, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018, is here.